Bulletproof your vehicle or get a rocket launcher for your car? Neil Vorano navigates the choices at this year's International Defence Exhibition in Abu Dhabi.
The motors on show at Idex
All around me, soldiers dressed in varying uniforms of greens, blues, khakis and other, more garish colours are each carrying multiple bags of pamphlets and booth giveaways, looking as if they just had a successful session of shoe shopping at the local mall. High-powered movers and shakers in blue and grey business suits or long, white kanduras and their lower-level wannabes wander about talking on mobile phones or to each other, sometimes doing both at the same time. And they are all here at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre to live out the fantasies of a 10-year-old boy.
Of course, it must be Idex time again. The International Defence Exhibition in Abu Dhabi is a special occasion where the world's arms manufacturers come to the capital to show their wares. And for that 10-year-old boy in all of us, especially those who read the Motoring section, that means a proper display of some of the biggest, most awe-inspiring vehicles on - or, more likely, off - the roads today. Plus, many of them have really big guns. Cool.
Walking about the show, a visitor is bombarded - excuse the expression - with giant war vehicles, some with tracks, some with tyres as tall as a man; some in green, some in khaki, some in dark blue; some with large turrets and cannons, some looking more like desert race cars with thick, heavy armour. It's like a giant new car dealership, only everywhere you turn is a mammoth and mean-looking machine.
So much so, in fact, that it all starts to get a little overwhelming, and the vehicles start to blend into one another. It's then, dear reader, that you have to try to look past the shock and awe and use a discerning eye to find the truly interesting and odd bits on the Adnec floor.
Take, for example the booth of Force Protection Europe Ltd, which had its Ocelot light protected patrol vehicle on display. It actually had two vehicles on the floor; well, to be honest, it had one and a third. A covered troop carrier standing a full 2.35m loomed high above what looked like an open-bed version with no wheels, engine or frame, just sitting there on the floor .
The Ocelot is a modular vehicle that can be transformed to perform different tasks simply by bolting on a different body. Imagine the options you'd have if you could do that with your own car.
Max Pengelley, the business development manager of the company's new technology programmes, tells me the vehicle has three main components, starting with the powerpack, which consists of the six-cylinder, turbocharged diesel engine, the six-speed gearbox, the engine electrics and fuel system. Then there is the primary mine-resistance frame, or the skateboard as Pengelley calls it, which is the V-shaped hull that runs from the front to the back of the vehicle. Finally, the troop pod, which comes in different configurations that is held onto the skateboard by just four hinges. Four very large hinges.
"If you have another pod completely kitted out with radios and ECM [electronic control module], it would take about 40 minutes to change pods," says Pengelley. "So, you can configure your fleet for an operation overnight."
The vehicle is completely new; the company's first customer is the British army, which bought 200 Ocelots in November and is renaming theirs Foxhounds.
Is Force Protection looking to sell any Ocelots at Idex?
"Why do you come to a show like this?" says Pengelley with a sly smile.
Have they had any bites on this second day?
"Why do you come to a show like this?" he says again through narrowing eyes.
And how much does it cost?
"How much do you want to spend on options? They are competitive with other, comparable vehicles." I notice he keeps his smile.
Wander about some more, and try not to think about the question that the sign "Fusing and Ordnance Solutions" is supposed to answer. Keep walking past the General Dynamics booth, filled with giant tanks and armoured personnel carriers, and try to imagine if there was even a hint of irony or humour in the naming of one of its vehicles as the "Desert Piranha".
Keep going to the booth of what looks like a snowmobile mounted on a pedestal, one of the more curious machines at the show.
It's the Sand-X; though there was one on the booth last year (you can read Motoring's review - Over sand and sea - of the wild off-roader at www.thenational.com), this version is all-new: instead of the 800cc, two-stroke version in the first Sand-X, this one boasts a 1,200cc four-stroke engine, along with two upright radiators and, ominously, a gun rack. But it still has a zero-to-100kph time of less than three seconds, says Urs Eiselin, the man behind the machine.
"It's making its debut here," says the former Swiss snowboarder who now resides in the UAE. "We're focusing more on military applications, and a four-stroke engine is quieter and better for operations such as border patrols."
Eiselin was in and out of various meetings with delegates on this day; apparently, the Sand-X is proving popular in this region.
A little further down, in another dark corner, a large black BMW saloon can't help but draw attention; mainly because of the fact it's littered with real bullet holes. It's a booth for a company that armours passenger cars, but beside it sits another booth with an interesting automotive accessory.
Televisions behind the Newco Safety Systems desk play what looks like a spy movie: an executive leaves his upscale mansion and steps into a black saloon; the video cuts to a menacing figure in a balaclava in a van waiting for the executive to leave his driveway. Suddenly, there is an ambush, and things look dire for the executive - but not for long. Rockets fire out from the front and rear of his saloon, spreading smoke and allowing the executive to make an escape.
"We call it the Bond system," says Christian Tatarzycki, the company's team manager for tactics. Ah, like the James Bond films and their gadget-laden cars, I presume.
"No, it's an acronym for Bionic Obscurement Non-Lethal Division," says Tatarzycki, with not a hint of facetiousness. Umm, right.
Despite his denial of any link to the famous spy, Tatarzycki acts the part of a real-life Q, the film's quirky gadget master. With the help of a display model, he excitedly shows me how easy it is to select and fire different rockets with different payloads - smoke, tear gas or flash grenades - all from the comfort of your luxury car. It first needs a four-digit code to allow access, which I presume would make your emergency situation a little more frenetic, but I suppose it's necessary to foil car thieves and hotel valets.
Could I purchase the €15,000 (Dh75,300) system for my Alfa Romeo convertible? "We can make the system fit on any car," says Tatarzycki. "But you may have to check with the local police to see if you can have it."
I have a feeling that's about as likely as getting a test drive of a tank. Sigh.